By Karin Kloosterman
Americans love their cars, and own more of them per capita than anywhere else on earth -- some 765 for every 1,000 people. But turbulent financial times threaten both the automotive industry and the ability to put gas in the tanks of our favored mode of transportation.
Electric cars offer promise, but switching over still has limits: infrastructure is lacking, new cars need to be built, and the electric car just doesn't have the same "muscle" as the petrol-fueled machines that Americans love.
An entirely new solution may come by way of an Israeli company - Agam Energy Systems -- which has developed a piston-less turbine engine, featuring a new kind of compressor that the company hopes will revolutionize the automotive industry.
American automakers are already taking notice, the company reports.
Agam's chief technology officer and visionary is Dr. Gad Assaf, a physicist in energy and thermodynamics, who worked for the successful alternative energy company Ormat. According to Ofer Spottheim, the business development manager at Agam, Ormat considers Assaf to be one of the most creative minds in the business.
Consumes 1/5 of the fuel, releases 1/10 of the emissions
And while Agam's engine has passed feasibility studies, it's still in R&D. It could be ready by 2012 if a significant investment is made: "All the western world probably wishes it were ready right now," Spottheim tells ISRAEL21c.
Now in touch with one of the world's biggest manufacturing companies, Agam is hoping for the stars to align so that it can get the strategic partner it needs to shift into high gear.
"We have a prototype ready of the crucial part of the engine," says Spottheim. "The breakthrough is the compressor, which is now working according to expectations."
Agam's turbine engine could be fitted into a regular car with some gear modifications, such as a Toyota Camry, and offer 100 miles to the gallon, the company boasts. This compares to about 21 miles to the gallon of today's average car. Road efficiency in cars is about 10 percent, says Spottheim, while Agam's engines promise 55% efficiency.
And of course Agam's engine is good news for the environment too: It consumes about the fifth of the petrol of a piston-based engine, and emits one-tenth of the CO2 fumes that contribute to global warning.
A ring around the engine
While the motor industry today revolves around piston engines, Agam's engine is based on a two phase (liquid gas) turbine-like engine. Previous attempts to create a turbine-based engine have failed, the company believes, because of the energy needed by the turbines to run the compressors.
Agam says it has solved the problem by creating a revolutionary liquid ring compressor that achieves a much higher mechanical efficiency.
"The current engines are working with pistons and haven't really changed in the last 100 years," Spottheim explains. "Even with small improvements efficiency has been increased by 1 or 2%. On average, that amounts to about 10% efficiency if we consider the energy used at stoplights, and while accelerating."
Up until now the company, which has been operating for nine years, and commercializing other products such as a solution to reduce humidity and heating costs in greenhouses and pools, has financed the new development, along with an investment of $1 million from an Israeli entrepreneur. Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist has recently pledged $125,000 to go towards more R&D.
Agam is based in Hod Hasharon, Israel and currently employs five people. The new engine, the company adds, is designed not just for vehicles but also for industrial machinery and power plants.